Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett is in France this week to speak with potential investors there about the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort.
“The purpose of the trip is generally to get B.C. on the radar in France, to convince them that they should look at B.C. in the same favourable light as eastern Canada,” Bennett told Echo sister paper the Cranbrook Daily Townsman via email from France. “Specifically, our intention is to encourage them to consider investing in new high mountain, glacier-based ski resorts in B.C.”
Bennett will be meeting with stakeholders in the French ski resort industry; France Neige International (FNI), a ski resort association representing dozens of ski resorts in the French Alps: Caisson des Depots, a bank involved with the industry in which the French government is a shareholder and Companies des Alpes (CDA), an operating company. Bennett will also be meeting with local owners, however the local owners often do not operate the actual resorts, CDA is responsible.
Bennett said the focus of the meetings is on environmentally sustainable resorts that provide jobs and work closely with nearby communities. Members of the FNI got a chance to ski the Jumbo Glacier in 1993. Bennett said they were so impressed that they declared the area “the most exciting location in the world for a new ski resort.”
Rainer Giersch, who is travelling to France with Bennett and is B.C.’s European representative, has been working with FNI and coordinated the meetings. He works for Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and is helping Bennett represent the province. Oberto Oberti of Oberto Oberti Architecture, Pheidias Project Management and Glacier Resorts Ltd. has also had a relationship with FNI, but had not been in contact with them until September, 2011.
Bennett is funding his own trip, and the proponents of the Jumbo Glacier Resort that will be travelling with him will not be providing any funding. While in France, expenses will be covered by the FNI.
“I have chosen to pay for my travel to Europe, personally, not because I have to but because I know the NDP and Wildsight will do what they always do and try to characterize my efforts on behalf of the region negatively,” he said. “Paying my own way, not using public dollars for the trip seemed like the right thing for me to do.”
Travelling with Bennett will be: Rick Jensen, Panorama Mountain Resort; Doug Clovechok and Todd Mitchell, Invermere and the Columbia Valley; Grant Costello and Jill Bodkin, Glacier Resorts Ltd.; Mayor Dee Conklin, Village of Radium Hot Springs and First Nations representatives from the Simpcw Band of the Valemount, B.C., area, where another glacier ski development is currently being planned by Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd.
Ktunaxa Nation Chair Kathryn Teneese said the trip is sending the wrong message to proponents and opponents of the resort, and suggests the provincial government might be ready to make an announcement on the project’s approval.
“To me it’s sending a signal that a decision has been reached and I’m a little bit disturbed if that is the case,” Teneese said.
The Ktunaxa has been opposed to the proposed Jumbo Resort, because the land that would house the resort sits within Qat’muk (Got-mook). According to the Ktunaxa Nation, Qat’muk is the home of the Grizzly Bear Spirit and the core of a Ktunaxa sacred site. It also provides key habitat for grizzlies and numerous other wildlife species.
In a press release from the Ktunaxa Nation, Teneese said the government is appearing to be biased by taking part in the trip.
“It has the appearance that government is not impartial in the project review process,” said Teneese.
Bennett said the Environmental Review Process was completed and the project received an Environmental Certificate (EC) in 2005.
“We are long past the stage where government is obligated to remain impartial,” he said. “When I say government need not be ‘impartial’, what I mean is that government should not be impartial about creating jobs and attracting investment. Once the project has been proven that it can be built in an environmentally responsible way, which it has, it is actually our responsibility to be constructive and positive.”
With the EC in place, the project also has an agreed upon master plan, but still needs a Master Development Agreement signed by the province.
“The Agreement has been complete for years and these past few years have been mostly spent working closely with the Ktunuxa,” Bennett said. “There is nothing stopping government from making a decision, yes or no.”
Teneese said she is not opposed to the promotion of skiing in B.C., but questions the promotion of a ski resort that doesn’t even exist yet, and has not been approved by the provincial government.
“It really doesn’t bode well for a relationship with potential investors if you’re promoting something that doesn’t exist, or do these folks have information that we don’t know yet?” she said.
Bennett said the project, like many others the B.C. government deals with has many opponents, and it is the government’s job to make tough, and sometimes unpopular decisions.
“Every project has its opponents,” he said. “If governments refused to take action because a project had opponents, governments would never allow anything to be built and we wouldn’t have the standard of living we have in Canada.“
Bennett said the local Ktunaxa Nation was not invited to accompany the mission to France because they oppose the project. Teneese said that had they been welcomed, they would have made sure the information they have developed as they continue to lobby against the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort was included and presented to the French investors.
“I’m just worried about the people in France being misled,” Teneese said.
The Ktunaxa Nation continue to work behind the scenes to make sure the information about their sacred land is being factored into the decision regarding the proposed resort.
Bennett was unable to confirm when the decision would be announced from the province, but Teneese said they have heard from their contacts in government that it is forthcoming.
“We have been informed that a decision is imminent,” Teneese said, adding that she wonders about the timing of the France trip. “I expect that it’s not a coincidence.”